Friday, April 29, 2011

More Firsts for Spring!

First Whimbrel of Spring!
I think my Canadian birding buddies are trying to make me jealous with reports of Mountain Bluebirds, Long-billed Dowichers and Black Phoebe and I can tell you, it's working. News too of Rob Catchpole my old Vancouver sidekick, he's still alive and kicking apparently after going off the radar, maybe someone put the toys back in his pram!!

Back to the UK and a couple of visits to Brandon Marsh over the past week and a banishment from aboard the boat this morning due to a certain wedding, which paid dividends with a Whimbrel in the adjacent field, plus a gorgeous ♂ Wheatear on the phone wires. Also around today were Raven, Buzzard, Kestrel, Reed Bunting, Sedge Warbler, Skylark and a good movement of Swallow. Worth a mention were a ♀♂ Tufted Duck who came to visit our resident tame Tufty, it's always sad to see when the other birds depart and poor Tufty with his duff wing is unable!

Brandon as you would imagine is awash with Warblers and with the recent influx of Grasshopper Warbler a prime target for photographers, we have the usual minority of idiots ploughing through nesting areas in search of a shot! New Hare Covert is covered in a beautiful carpet of Bluebells, which is in fact around 2 weeks early and Primrose and Ladies Smock abound! With the colder weather now upon us a lull in Butterfly numbers, but I did manage my first Damselfly of the year with a ♂ Banded Demoiselle on the River Meadow.

Banded Demoiselle
Tuesday saw my first Swift of the spring at Brandon and a Lesser Whitethroat still remains around the Sheepfield area. The first chicks have appeared on East Marsh Pool with 4 Lapwing, said birds were still showing on Thursday thankfully, despite the Carrion Crows best efforts to predate. With responsibility for Amphibians and Reptiles on the reserve it's good to know that Grass Snake are also in good numbers, when checking the designated refugia there's always one to be found basking. Unfortunately our Amphibian populations of Frogs and Toads have been scarce and I'm yet to hear any news on the various pond dipping sessions by the educational teams. Also seen of note other than the usual Warbler’s where: Common Sandpiper, Kingfisher, Cuckoo, Skylark, LR Plover, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Ruff, Common Tern, Swallows and Sand Martin are now numerous, intermingled with several House Martin.

I arrived early on Thursday to Brandon and was certainly glad that I had the good sense to be wearing my thermals. With a bitter easterly wind the Big Hide resembled an icebox, but the birding wasn’t too bad with two lovely summer plumage Dunlin and a cameo visit from two Shelduck. The long staying Ruff appears to be at home on East Marsh Pool and another count of seven Little Ringed Plover, who really need to get down to the business of nesting! The wildfowl numbers still continue to decline as we approach the summer but still a reasonable number of Teal, plus two ♂ Shoveler and four ♂ Gadwall. As I left the reserve at around 10.30am a Red Kite was soaring over towards the West Marsh area, but despite passing the sighting on to the guys still on the reserve, it wasn’t seen again.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Solitude - MY Easter Weekend!

Our Local Tree Sparrow Population
For someone like me who hates crowds and prefers the solitude of the countryside, walking a nature reserve or country park becomes a no-go area over the Easter weekend and any birding I do attempt is in the early hours and well before the hoards arrive.

I've stayed very much local over the last few days with visits to Napton Hill and Napton Reservoir, plus monitoring the wildlife at my home Marina, although the latter has been a hive of activity with boats constantly coming and going. When aboard, my favourite birding is simply sitting on the end of my pontoon sky watching, at Wigram's we're lucky enough to have a great panorama and this can actually throw up some interesting local rarities. Over the 5 years we've moored here I've recorded such species as Osprey on passage, Red Kite, Arctic Tern, Whimbrel, Waxwing, Great White Egret and on one winters morning a Bittern was photographed by a fellow moorer from her boat window walking on the ice!

This Easter weekend has in fact thrown up a few surprises in the mix, along with the usual species around the marina such as Whitethroat, Yellowhammer, Bullfinch, Sedge Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Reed Bunting, Pied Wagtail and Tree Sparrow. My first Cetti's Warbler at Wigram's was heard yesterday morning and after a good scan of the adjacent fields I recorded Barn Owl, Curlew, Golden Plover, and Lapwing, plus the Skylarks have been singing all weekend, which has been a real treat. Our resident Little Owls have been rather quiet of late, but I did manage a brief glimpse of one perched close to last years nesting location.

Our New Resident!
Barn Swallows have been constantly passing through, along with a few advanced party Swifts. The bird feeders are less busy with so much natural food around but Greenfinch, Chaffinch and Goldfinch are still regular. Common Buzzard have taken to the air on many occasions along with a lone Sparrowhawk and possibly two Kestrel have been working the area all weekend. Napton Reservior and Hill unfortunately didn't produce anything out of the ordinary other than a single Yellow Wagtail, and a chat with Bob from Napton's Church Leyes Farm brought up the question of the lack of rain within the area, apparently the local farmers are desperate for some!

Finally, after arriving back from Canada we discovered that one of our resident Hybrid Mallards (pictured) had set up home in one of our plant pots and is currently sitting on eleven eggs. I'm happy to report that said bird is doing well and thanks to the wife's constant pampering, is probably the most spoilt and protected bird in the world!!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Groppers Galore!

Grasshopper Warbler (Library Image)
A busy last few days catching up on some boaty chores and since returning to the UK last Sunday the weather has been stunning, with temperatures reaching 26C on occasions.

I joined up with the Conservation Team at Brandon Marsh on Thursday and spent the morning taking out invasive Birch on the top reedbed. Good news too while I was away in Canada, planning permission for the Phase 3 Newlands reedbed project was finally granted, and so we can now move on to the next stage of the project come autumn. Work has already begun and If anyone visiting Brandon comes across a strange looking greenhouse type structure that's suddenly appeared on the lower car park, this is in fact the nursery for the reeds required for the planting of the new bed.

The birding highlights for Thursday were more Grasshopper Warblers, four today, plus a brief glimpse of Hobby which overflew Horstail Glade during lunch.

With the Easter weekend now in full swing the marina and Oxford Canal resemble something which looks more like the M25 motorway. Yesterday (Good Friday) I sat out on the pontoon watching the antics of many novice boater's as they attempted to navigate in and out of the marina, always great fun to watch. The birding provided an occasional interesting moment too, firstly, while having breakfast al fresco my first Swift of the spring moved through heading west, then later in the afternoon two Yellow Wagtail overflew towards Napton reservoir!

This morning I arrived at Brandon shortly after sunrise and completed my usual tour of the reserve, before departing shortly after 11am prior to the hoards arriving. The usual Warblers were all in good song, in fact all the regular summer visitors are now in, although I've personally yet to register Swift and House Martin on site. An addition to my Tuesday list was a lone Ruff, which continued to feed on Willow Island throughout my stay, I also recorded an additional Cuckoo, making it two for today's visit.

It appears that this year may also be an unprecedented year for Grasshopper Warbler at Brandon. Today I managed a personal best of eight reeling birds throughout the reserve, actually managing some good views of at least three. Looking at the various forums, tweets and blogs it would seem that nationally too a lot more of these secretive birds are being heard, which is very welcome news after recent dramatic population declines.

I spent a good while today adding to my 2011 Butterfly count, which currently stands at ten species. The latest addition today was Large White, and although it's still early for some species to be around, those that are appear to be in good numbers and so all looks well for a bumper summer!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Back At The Ranch!

Hobby (Library Image)
I'm not sure whether it was the jet lag but I was awake at 3am this morning and despite planning a return to Brandon Marsh today at a reasonable hour, I duly arrived at around 5.30am to be greeted by at least 500 Starlings swirling across the Top Reedbed. I watched an almost full moon setting to the south-west on a beautiful, if not chilly morning (3C), before moving off on my usual route past Sheepfield, towards Wright Hide for my first coffee of the day.

The place had changed dramatically since my last visit over 5 weeks ago and I was astonished at how advanced the UK spring actually is. The place was alive with birdsong, Willow Warblers seemed to be singing from every tree, a couple of Chiffchaff were calling too and a Swallow zoomed past as though it only had moments to live! Sheepfield provided a first opportunity to see what else was about and within 10 minutes I'd recorded several Whitethroat and Blackcap, plus a reeling Grasshopper Warbler and a singing Lesser Whitethroat. New Hare Covert provided several more Blackcaps, Song Thrush and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

I paused when I got to Newlands for a while to watch the sunrise, listening to my second reeling Grasshopper Warbler of the day, when a Hobby came across the reeds moving south. Although I doubt it was feeding on dragonflies at this earlier hour it was definitely feeding in the trademark Hobby fashion, by lifting talon to mouth while still in flight, always an awesome sight to behold! A lone Barnacle Goose on the golf course and two Linnet, which looked to be surveying a nesting area, along with Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler, before my coffee in a freezing Wright Hide.

East Marsh Pool was busy with two Little Ringed Plover giving chase, a couple of Common Tern on the goal posts, and when I'd completed my counts I ended up with of note: Little Ringed Plover (6), Ringed Plover (2), Redshank (1), Oystercatcher (3), Pink-footed Goose (1), Snipe (2), GC Grebe (2), Sand Martin were numerous and there were also small numbers of Teal, Shoveler and Tufted Duck.

Lesser Whitethroat (Library Image)
The River Pool Hide had a further 2 Redshank and several more Teal, and so after a brief visit to Big Hide I made my way up to Carlton Hide. On the walk up I connected with a singing Garden Warbler and a distant Cuckoo, and after the Carlton Hide itself yielded nothing further of interest I got a second glimpse of possibly the same earlier Hobby, as it flew left to right as I appeared from the hide. I finally caught up with the rest of the 'Tuesday Bunch' back at Big Hide for more coffee and a catch up on what's been happening in my absence.

At the hide Mike, Peter, and I decided to take a walk across the 'Tip' area and around Farm Pool Reedbed, where we planned to stop for a picnic lunch. On route we managed 8 Buzzard in flight at one time and a third Gropper of the day, before we emerged to overlook the old farm area. Here we located a very pristine male Wheatear on the farmers fence, which eventually dropped to ground level before flying onto a nearby Hawthorn, where it was joined by a second bird.

A very rewarding return to Brandon, which also included 3 Grasssnake, and numerous Butterflies including Common Blue, Orange Tip, Peacock, Green-veined White, Small White, Speckled Wood and Comma.

Friday, April 15, 2011

My Canada

Common Loon An Icon Of Canada
As I draw a line under this particular visit to Canada I'm not only leaving with some great birding memories, but I now possess a substantial database of the prime birding areas of the Greater Vancouver area.

In fact my wife believes I now possess a greater knowledge of Vancouver than most Vancouverites. She also estimates I may well have walked over 250 miles during the five weeks I've been here!

Vancouver: I'm not sure I'm aware of any large metropolis where a short walk along it's seawall can produce literally thousand's of waterfowl with species such as Harlequin Duck, Red-necked Grebe, Common Loon, Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Barrow's Goldeneye and all three Mergansers a regular feature.

Raptors abound, Bald Eagle are abundant, Merlin can be seen flashing through the buildings when you look out of your apartment window, and the occasional Turkey Vulture can be seen soaring above Stanley Park! Sit for a while in an open area and you can almost guarantee a Coopers Hawk or Red-tailed hawk will appear high in a thermal, along with the many Glaucous-winged Gulls.

If you want to see Hummingbirds, these can be found too, and 'all year round' in Stanley Park where the Anna's is resident. In spring these are joined by the Rufous Hummingbird which literally follow the blooming Redcurrant up the Pacific Coast, and then on to Alaska, simply amazing!

I arrived here with a notion of achieving a species count of at least 120 and I'm leaving with 131 in the bag, not a bad tally. My previous visits to Canada have been into the interior of the country and I was greatly looking forward to improving my knowledge of coastal birds. Unfortunately, with spring greatly delayed due to late winter storms and persistent northerly or easterly winds, I didn't quite get to see all the species I'd hoped for, but the ones I did get to see, Black Turnstone for one, have greatly increased my knowledge base of North American Species.

On this particular visit I've been able to be part of the Canadian culture and have met some really genuine Canadian birders and thank them for their company and sharing their knowledge.

Canada, like the UK has it's own unique environmental issues, and I get the impression that some of their great birding and wildlife venues are fought for passionately, and often only succeed by compromise and hard work, incredible really with such diverse and rich habitats in abundance. A typical example, Maplewood Conservation Area  on Vancouver's North Shore was earmarked for housing and is now a unique wildlife destination, thanks to the persistence and enthusiasm of many individuals.

Irresponsible Dog Owners!
Even here in the Greater Vancouver area with all it's diversity species are on the decline, such as Western Grebe, down 100% in some areas and once a common sight off English Bay, but no more! Common Loon, a Canadian Icon, is also threatened, cottages, campgrounds and marinas are being built along lakes where loons liked to nest. Dog owners I'm told have increased exponentially over recent years and I've witnessed first hand the irresponsibility of some, who pay little attention to wildlife havens and on-leash laws, allowing their animals to disrupt resting birds during migration, Blackie Spit was a typical example!

What I do know from the people I've met here over my stay is that the determination exists from groups of passionate individuals, 'wildlife warriors', who will ensure that the authorities remain aware of the issues, and will continue to work hard to maintain this areas uniqueness for generations to come, and I hope that one day soon I can be part of that fight!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stanley Park

Stanley Park From The Air
Birding has taken a back seat over the last few days while I nurse the wife back to good health, but I have managed a couple of visits locally to Stanley Park and the surrounding seafront. Vancouver is just that sort of City, no matter where you are, within minutes you can be amongst the wildlife.

Yesterday I started with a leisurely walk around Lost Lagoon before moving on to Beaver Lake. The usual suspects were around, Spotted Towhee, American Robin, Dark-eyed Junko, Chickadee's and the Song Sparrows were in good voice. I sat for a while watching a very noisy pair of Stella's Jay but never quite managed to see what all the fuss was about. A couple of Bald Eagle were enjoying a thermal and at the other end of the scale, a very brief visit of Anna's Hummingbird to the blooming Redcurrant. The Lagoon itself held around 50 or so Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, ♀Common Merganser and a pair of Barrow's Goldeneye. Looks like the Canadian Mute Swan population is about to increase too, as 3 nesting birds are already in residence.

Map of Stanley Park
Beaver Lake was alive around the perimeter and I lost count of the numbers of Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, one very flighty Hutton's Vireo and at least another 6 Yellow-rumped Warbler were also seen. As I sat watching a gorgeous looking pair of Wood Duck a Coopers Hawk flashed through. Finally, the Swallows have begun to arrive in the City area, having been around for at least a fortnight further down the coast, with both Tree Swallow and Violet-green Swallow swooping low across the water.

This evening I managed a two hour walk along the seafront, starting at English Bay and walking around to the Burrard Inlet. As a birder I always have to pinch myself when I get back to the apartment and check my notes when I've walked this stretch. It reads like a who's who of waterfowl which would keep any British birder happy for months. Lesser and Greater Scaup, Bufflehead, Harlequin Duck, Surf Scoter, Barrow's Goldeneye, Common Goldeneye, American Wigeon, Red Breasted, Common and Hooded Merganser, summer plumage Red Necked Grebe and Common Loon. There going to have to drag me screaming back to the UK come Saturday!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Final Week

Locally Rare Yellow-Headed Blackbird
This is the last week of my current visit to Canada and with today probably being the best day of the week weather wise, I decided to have another go at Iona Beach Regional Park before the rain arrives tomorrow.

After arriving at Templeton I set off on my usual 7Km walk from the rail station down to Iona. After around 20 minutes I'd recorded Rough-Legged Hawk, good numbers of Killdeer, Savannah Sparrow and a few Golden-Crowned Sparrow, which have now begun to sing. A lady I bumped into also told me that an Orange-crowned Warlbler had also been heard singing on McDonald Road, but after a short search I never managed to make contact. After around 30 minutes I was lucky enough to pick up a lift from a fellow birder, John Voight, who I ended up spending the rest of the morning with, turns out John is a regular visitor to the reserve and was great company. Just hope I've got his surname correct!

A walk around the sewage treatment ponds on arrival was very productive with two more species to add to my current list, Northern Rough-Winged Swallow and Cliff Swallow, which were mingled in with Tree, Barn and Violet-Green. The pools contained the usual Pintail, Scaup, Northern Shoveler and American Wigeon.

After moving on to the North and South Marshes, as like on my last visit, alive with birdsong, it wasn't long before good numbers of Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Marsh Wren and Red-Winged Blackbird were recorded, a Wilson's Snipe was also seen in flight.

A bird definitely on my wish list for today was the locally rare Yellow-Headed Blackbird, a regular spring and summer visitor here and a species I'd only recorded once before. I was therefore delighted when as John and I went to investigate a Virginia Rail calling, one of these beautiful birds was perched midway in the reeds. After a further five minute search we also managed to make contact with the Virginia Rail, which could be seen skulking low in the reed bed.

Cliff Swallow (Library Image)
A look around the Fraser River and across the Strait and around the brush in search of Lincoln's Sparrow turned up Osprey, which came low overhead, and two Caspian Tern which were seen in flight near the North Arm Jetty. A final walk around the treatment ponds before John departed had our second Yellow-Headed blackbird of the day, plus Peregrine and a group of 8 Greater Yellowlegs.

It turned out to be a day of meetings as shortly after John left I caught up with Derek Killby yet again, another local birder and Derek and I took another good tour of the North and South Marsh. Unfortunately we were unable to find either Yellow-Winged Blackbird for Derek to see, but did manage Northern Shrike, Brewer's Blackbird's, American Goldfinch and Myrtle Warbler. The pools contained Ringed-Necked Duck, Bufflehead, Scaup and Pied-Billed Grebe. Another excellent days birding once again and many thanks to Derek who gave me a lift all the way back to Downtown Vancouver.

Also seen to day of note: Bald Eagle, Golden-Crowned Sparrow, White-Crown Sparrow, House Finch, Herring Gull, Fox Sparrow, Muskrat, Harbour Seal and Garter Snake.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Hummingbird Quest

Black-tailed Deer @ Maplewood
This being our last full weekend in Vancouver I decided to pack a picnic and take my wife Dee to Maplewood Flats in search of Hummingbirds. Maplewood is the nearest reserve to our apartment, about a 40 minute bus ride, and has become my adopted local site during the last month. Dee has never seen one of these amazing birds and I thought we stood a good chance of connecting, having not failed to see one on each previous visit.

Our arrival at Maplewood could not have been more timely. When we arrived at around midday we met Derek Killby at the entrance, a birder I'd met at Iona on Thursday. As we chatted away the first two Osprey's to return to the reserve this spring suddenly appeared overhead, much to our delight and the delight of Patricia who'd emerged from the office.

Patricia I believe is one of the founders of Wild Bird Trust BC, which is a non profit making organisation formed in 1993. She also told me that my Beaver sighting of last Tuesday (see previous post) that I'd reported was the first for the reserve, and in fact he was still here and had been seen several times and photographed. I was delighted to have a first for the reserve, something that I've yet to achieve back in the UK.

1st Winter Snow Bunting (Library Image)
Derek accompanied us on our quest for Dee's Hummingbird and during the walk past what is known as Pocket Marsh we encountered three Black-tailed Deer, which I believe are a sub species of Mule deer, Dee managed to get several pictures.

We stopped for a while overlooking the Salt Marsh, where Derek informed us he'd seen Snow Bunting very early this morning. As we scanned the marsh the sudden call of Hummingbird from behind had us searching, but in vain, no sign of the Bunting either. We walked to the West Pond lookout and although the pond was almost bare of waterfowl, there lying fast asleep on a comfortable bed of reeds was my Beaver.

Tracking back we kept a vigil on an area of Redcurrant and Salmonberry where Derek had seen Rufous earlier, and finally, although not the best view ever, a delighted Dee had her first Hummingbird, a Rufous which hung around for around 30 seconds before making off.

Before heading back we decided to take a last look at the Salt Marsh and almost immediately had a stunning looking Snow Bunting in our sights, my first for Canada. I suspect that this was a first winter bird by the colouring and Dee managed a few record shots, but too rubbish to post. Oh and by the way the picnic was delicious!

Friday, April 08, 2011

Luxury birding!

Gorgeous Violet-Green Swallow
With Rob currently house sitting we had the luxury of some transport at our disposal for today's outing and so decided to start with a visit to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary. This was my third visit since arriving a month ago and by comparison to my other visits by far the quietest.

The usual suspects were still around, including at least 2,000 Snow Geese on the surrounding fields, two Black-Crowned Night-Heron, and the Tree Swallows and Violet-Green's had been joined by several Barn Swallow. The sea-view path was extremely quiet with a lone Northern Harrier, several Savannah Sparrow and the usual collection of mature and immature Bald Eagle. A number of shore bird flocks were seen in the distance, probably Dunlin and Sanderling. The pools had a selection of Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead and Northern Pintail and as ever the Marsh Wren's were busy within the reed bed.

Fox Sparrow @ Reifel Today
The interior was more lively with Brown Creeper and Red-breasted Nuthatch, plus small numbers of Golden-crowned Kinglet, Fox Sparrow and the gorgeous Wood Ducks. We didn't spend too much time today looking for the Saw-Whet Owls, as the number of photographers and family visitors had increased due to the lovely weather, and so after checking out the remaining fields, where we counted 21 White-fronted Geese, we moved on.

As we left the parking area we came to an abrupt stop to watch a Rufous Hummingbird in display flight, constantly flying back and forth before zooming high into the air and down again, truly amazing! On the Western Island Road Bridge we stopped to checked out five large Grebes, which turned out to be Western Grebe, my first sighting on this particular visit.

From here we eventually ended up at Boundary Bay from the 112th street entrance, an area we haven't actually managed to check out over the last four weeks. As with Reifel the area was reasonably quite to start with, apart from the now prevalent Savannah Sparrow's, but patience paid off before we called it a day with of note: 3-Short-eared Owl, 4-Northern Harrier and 2-Red-tailed Hawk. An excellent end to an excellent week!

Other species of note on our travels today: Downy Woodpecker, Trumpeter Swan, Collared Dove, Pied-billed Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser and Harbour Seal.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Iona Again!

Male Brewer's Blackbird
More glorious sunshine today here in beautiful BC and a trip out to Iona Island once again in the hope that the good weather had helped the migration. I wasn't disappointed!

After arriving at Templeton station around 9am I began the 6.7Km walk along Grauer and Furguson Road towards the Iona Island Causeway. Like my last visit a few weeks earlier (See Previous Post) the birding is quite surreal with the busy Vancouver International Airport to the left and the calm tranquility of lagoons, meadow and estuary on the other.

The walk down Furguson Road began quietly with little on offer but by the time I'd reached the entrance to Iona Beach Regional Park I'd recorded Red-necked Grebe, Bewick's Wren, Raven, Northern Shrike, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle a plenty and around ten or so Savannah Sparrow. I checked out the four treatment ponds at the sewage works which had the usual waterfowl, including Northern Pintail and Lesser Scaup, plus a half dozen Killdeer. While I was sorting the many Tree Swallows from the Violet-green in my binoculars I recorded my first Barn Swallow of spring, which flashed through my line of sight. It was also noticeable that a good number of Brewer's Blackbird were around the pools, I probably counted around two dozen before moving on.

When I arrived at the two artificial ponds the place was alive with birdsong! The Red-winged Blackbirds were constantly on the go, Tree Swallows were calling, along with lots of Marsh Wren singing from within the reeds. As I took the track that runs adjacent to the treatment ponds a Garter Snake crossed my path and a Virginia Rail was calling but not located.

American Goldfinch
As I continued my walk a stunning looking Goldfinch in full summer plumage, plus an Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler was seen in the Silver Birch copse. Here I stopped for while to chat with a lovely lady called Cynthia and her husband, who are regular visitors to the reserve. Another Northern Harrier, plus Fox Sparrow on my way towards the parking area and lunch. The pools held Canvasback, Bufflehead, a lone Pied-billed Grebe and Ringed-necked Duck, plus I also watched a very pale looking Canada Goose, almost leucistic, for a short while.

During lunch I chatted with another local birder called Derek, who pointed me in the direction of a Myrtle Warbler he'd seen earlier, he also mentioned seeing two Caspian Tern out near the tidal edge, but I never managed to connect as by now the tide was way out.

After lunch I took the path along the Fraser River where a Wilson's Snipe flew south and then backtracked through the Silver Birch connecting with what may have been Derek's earlier Myrtle Warbler. I stayed for a while just listening to the song, spring was most definitely in the air, and then right on cue my first spring Osprey was overhead, circling for a while before moving off.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Spring Like

Savannah Sparrow
At last the sun shone over Vancouver and an opportunity once more to go further afield. After meeting up with Rob Catchpole we made the decision to have another go at Boundary Bay, this would be my third visit.

I like this area a lot, the fact that the bay is on the Pacific Flyway makes it an exciting birding destination. The spectacular setting of sand dunes, salt marshes, lagoons and tidal flats, plus it's reputation for hosting Canada's largest population of wintering raptors, makes for some excellent birding.

We began our birding day at the 12th Avenue Dyke Trail and had literally only taken a few steps before a Merlin flew low across our path, a terrific start to the day. Heading south along the trail it wasn't long before it became apparent that there had been a large influx of Savannah Sparrow, I stopped counting after the first two dozen. Most Savannah's migrate and spend the winter from the southern United States as far south as Central America, I find them quite attractive little birds and probably my favourite Sparrow.

Tree Swallow and Violet Green Swallow had also increased in numbers since my last visit and the usual hoards of Bald Eagle were also constantly in view. Unfortunately high tide wasn't until after dark but from a distance we did managed good numbers of Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlin and Sanderling, there were also some small flocks of Brant just visible in the distance.

After a quick chat with a couple of local birders we moved into the interior where several Northern Harrier, including two stunning males, were constantly in sight. Northern Flicker were as vocal as ever and several Marsh Wren were constantly calling from the reeds, a few Golden-crowned Sparrow were also around. As we moved back across to return to the Dyke Trail some excellent views of Peregrine hunting overhead.

After lunch we moved off northwards, once again rejoining the Dyke Trail at 17th Avenue, in the hope of Mountain Bluebird which occasionally drop in here on migration. I was delighted to see my first two Butterflies of the spring, unfortunately too far out for species recognition, and we were lucky enough to watch two Coyote for a good while before we eventually moved on. Worth a mention too that at least five Eurasian Wigeon were mingled in with their American cousins near the greenhouse ponds.

By the time we'd reached the 72nd Street car park we'd decided to call it a day, but not before registering Red-Tailed Hawk and watching a Short-eared Owl quartering the tidal flats, looking absolutely stunning in the bright sunshine. We bombed on the Bluebirds but had an excellent birding day out, the good news is that the weather is set fine for my visit to Iona tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Reserve 1st?

Rufous on Red Current (Library Image)
When I arrived at this mornings chosen venue, once again not wanting to go too far afield due the weather, I got the distinct feeling that I'd probably ended up making the wrong decision.

As I arrived at Maplewood Flats on the North Shore of Vancouver the rain had just begun to set in and I had a distinct feeling it was here to stay. As I looked out across the bay to the south it seemed a lot brighter and clearer and I wondered why I hadn't headed off in the direction of Boundary Bay to the south. When in fact I did arrive back in Downtown Vancouver, soaked to the bone once more some two hours later, the sun was indeed shinning. But hey, that's just the way things are here with the climate and you just have to get used to it!

I did in fact have an excellent 90-minutes at Maplewood despite what was now a mixture of rain and snow. As I walked up to the bird feeding station, which is located just after you enter the reserve, and is enclosed in a lovely wild garden, I was instantly staring point blank at a Rufous Hummingbird, which was hovering and taking in the newly flowering Red Currant blossom. I still can't get used to seeing these stunning little guys in this current cold, rainy, unfriendly environment.

The Rufous is an amazing bird, they winter in Mexico and south Texas. In the spring, they migrate up the Pacific Coast, passing through British Columbia and reaching as far north as south-central Alaska, and they are thus the northernmost breeding Hummingbird. They arrive in BC around late March and early April, their arrival typically coincides with the bloom of Red Currant and Salmonberry.

Beaver (Library Image)
My next surprise came about while crossing the Old Barge Channel Bridge when I noticed a large mammal swimming across to the bank. At first I thought River Otter as I'd seen one on my previous visit. However, as soon as the animal reached the bank it was unmistakably a Beaver, Canada's largest rodent and instantly recognised by it's broad scaly tail. Not only a surprise to see one during the day, as these rodents are primarily nocturnal, but when I reported it to Patricia in the reserve office, she believes it may in fact be the first sighting on this site, we shall see.

Other highlights of the visit before I aborted were 3 Black Oystercatcher and 2 Greater Yellowlegs on the mudflats, plus Purple Finch, House Finch, American Goldfinch and a pair of Hooded Merganser.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Birthday Soaking

Other Brave Souls!
After making the bold statement in my previous post regarding my new species objective of 130 for this current trip, today couldn't have got off to a worst start!

The weather here at present is the worst I've experienced during my stay with a chilly 4C, accompanied by heavy persistent rain and low cloud with yet another Pacific low waiting in the wings. In fact it's typical Vancouver weather for this time of year, and of course the consequence is that any migration will have once again stalled.

That said, I donned my waterproofs and went in search locally in the hope of catching anything that may have bravely come through overnight, Terns, Bonaparte's Gull which occasionally pass through, or even Osprey! I felt the seawall was the best option, travelling further afield in these conditions was a no brainer.

I must say that after my ninety minute walk I'd decided that I may well be becoming a little complacent and need to shake the trend. Although I'd recorded nothing new, I had a pretty good tally which included of note: Lesser Scaup, Greater Scaup, Bufflehead, Harlequin Duck, Common Merganser, Red-necked Grebe, American Wigeon, Surf Scoter, Barrow's Goldeneye, Wood Duck, Pelagic Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, Pigeon Guillemot, Glaucous-winged Gull, Mew Gull, Bald Eagle and even two Harbour Seals, quite a haul by a Brit birders standard!

A final walk around the Lost Lagoon, which yielded nothing more, before heading up to the apartment for lunch, thoroughly soaked but a happy birthday boy! Who knows what goodies the present fairy may bring tonight!

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Hit The Wall

Stellers Jay (Through my Window!)
There comes a time in every birders life when you simply hit the wall and no matter how hard you try you simply can't add any more species to the list. I'm not a profound list maker by nature, but I always enjoy a challenge when birding abroad. This particular trip for example I was quietly confident of recording 110 species, having passed that total with flying colours, I've now set my stall out to reach a difficult 130 by the time I depart, which will be sometime in the next 10 days.

I've now been here in Vancouver for just over 3 weeks, have visited all the known birding hotspots, some twice, and have recorded 121 species thus far. Having reviewed my current list it seems that from this point forward I'm relying almost totally on spring migration to boost the numbers, a task in itself made even more difficult by the coming weeks weather, rain, rain and even more rain!

Unlike the UK where it seems migration is in full swing, here in British Columbia things have slightly stalled. Cold, blustery north winds have kept many expected species away from the region and even very early species are here in small numbers. When visiting Maplewood Flats for a second time on Friday April 1st the talk was of last years earliest ever arrival of Osprey on this date.

No signs of any Osprey's yet having trawled the forums, and it now looks certain that Terns and Shorebirds are likely to begin arriving shortly after my departure. However, a few species which do seem to be passing through include Mountain Bluebird and Townsend Warbler, so it seems that for the next week I have my work cut out, I always did enjoy a challenge!

As a sub note: Despite visiting so many habitats over the past three weeks one bird which has surprisingly eluded me has been Steller's Jay (pictured above). That is until today, when a commotion on the apartment balcony which I went to investigate, was being caused by two Steller's in full battle with two American Robin's, great fun to watch, the Robins Won!!